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Preparing For A Future of Smart Mobility Requires Coordination Now, Experts Say

Autonomous Stuff vehicle
WCBU Staff

Preparing for the transportation needs of the future—whether through autonomous vehicles, electric power or ride-sharing—is going to require coordination. 

That was the theme of the meeting held at the Gateway Building in Peoria Thursday, the second in a series of three statewide workshops held by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and the Illinois Department of Transportation. The first workshop was hosted last month by State Farm Insurance in Bloomington. 

“This is not just about autonomous vehicles,” said Jerry Quandt, executive director of the Chicago-based Illinois Autonomous Vehicles Association and the meeting’s moderator. “It’s about our total transportation system in this state, making sure we have the right infrastructure in place. We want to document what’s happening in Illinois as we look at the connectivity that needs to be in place."

“We want to identify projects and priorities,” said Quandt, adding that a public report would be issued following the third workshop. 

Phil Lockwood, board president of the Peoria Innovation Alliance, said Illinois stands to gain by adopting a regional approach to smart mobility instead of each community in the state working on its own. 

Central Illinois makes sense as a smart-mobility hub, said Lockwood, citing regional assets such as AutonomouStuff in Morton, Rivian the maker of electric vehicles in Bloomington-Normal, and the Illinois Center for Transportation at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. 

“By collaborating, the region has a better opportunity to get grants,” he said. 

Peoria sought a $10 million demonstration grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation last year but wasn't selected, despite finishing in the top 15 percent among applicants across the nation, said Hannah Martin, a transportation planner for the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission. 

"The feeling was that we would have had a better chance at the grant with additional partners,” she said. Autonomous mobility has captured the public's interest, said Martin. "There's been a lot of hype, especially in 2016 and 2017 when some people thought that autonomous cars were coming immediately. Now we've taken a pause and realize there are a lot of nitty-gritty details that have to be worked out," she said. 

The workshop's goal was to work out some of those nitty-gritty details--not just for driverless cars but regarding transportation in general. 

Among topics discussed at Thursday’s meeting was how to improve mass transit across the state. 

“It comes down to usability and convenience across all platforms. I like the idea of an a la carte smorgasbord where a rider can choose among various options. The key is to attract the choice rider, someone who’s not riding transit at present,” said Andrew Dwyer, CityLink’s director of mobility, who took part in one of the working groups Thursday. “It comes down to money but we need to offer (transit) solutions comparable to jumping in your car to get where you’re going,” he said. 

Some of the solutions that CityLink is considering include the placement of smart mobility hubs, kiosks where riders could select other forms of transportation other than fixed-route buses, said Dwyer. 

Every time a big bus is used in Peoria, the cost is $165 an hour, said Dwyer, adding that CityLink plans to add three electric buses to its fleet in the near future. 

Lockwood said the idea of forming a smart mobility coalition in central Illinois was happening “very quickly.” 

“There’s a need for collaboration. We want to be economically relevant,” he said.